Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Wizards Don't Suck on the Battlefield

  This is, naturally, directly related to my last post.

  A little over a quarter century ago we had a guy sit in on a game for a session or two. As I recall he was playing a 6th level magic-user with an interesting mix of magic items and spells. He joined a large party (5 players and 8 characters, I think) and we went to Lew Pulsipher's Mount Thunder, where PC skulls as common as mice.
  The party got into an altercation and the visiting player cast Mirror Image, then Shield. The he drew a dagger and closed with the front line, doing very well for himself and helping turn the tide. This led Lew to discuss the idea of Pocket Quarterbacks vs. Fran Tarkenton. Wizards who stay in the middle of the formation and lob spells over his defenders = pocket quarterback. Guys like the visitor who wander around both casting and fighting are Fran Tarkenton (look him up, kids).

  While I have certainly mentioned what I call the Four Roles a few other places, let me repeat them;

    1) Fighters are Physical Offense
    2) Magic-users are Magical Offense
    3) Clerics are Physical and Magical Defense
    4) Thieves are Intelligence and Scouting

  And the other classes make sense, too; paladins are physical offense and magical defense, etc.

  Now, while I say, many times, wizards are magical offense and have said very recently that wizards suck on the battlefield (see the link in the first sentence) that isn't quite all there is to say. See, wizards don't have to suck on the battlefield, you just need to stop thinking of them as artillery and start thinking of them as melee combatants.

  Yes, really.

  While a wizard is artillery to a party they aren't to an army. But 'not being artillery' doesn't mean 'useless in battle'. Let's talk a little about wizards on the battlefield and mention Battlesystem.
  You remember Battlesystem right?

  Anyway, let's look at the spell caster above. Good armor class from the Shield spell; the Mirror Image adds to his survivability. How about we toss in, oh, Blink? Wow! His survivability goes up farther, he's more capable in combat (lots of flanking and rear attacks), and all of his images start blinking around, too!
  If he were to engage a Battlesystem unit I might treat him and his images as a unit, not an individual (there are a lot of him) and I might make the opposing unit make a morale check for 'engaged with an enemy they cannot hurt', especially if they have low hit dice. These spells are easily accessible for a 5th level mage. Other good 3rd level spells for the battlefield are Haste and Slow (although they would only affect one unit marker in an army). Invisibility, 10' radius might allow a unit to move around the battlefield for a while.
  Another major battlefield impact available to the wizard is Wall of Fire; this spell can be used to stop arrows and protect a flank in an emergency. Wall of Ice, Stone, Iron etc. are similar.

  But the really big one at 4th level must be Hallucinatory Terrain.

  Normally I stick to the rule for 1e spells that "outdoors the range changes to tens of yards but area of effect stays tens of feet'. I make an exception for Hallucinatory Terrain simply because it can't do what it is described as doing ('open fields looking like a swamp', 'a rock strewn gulley looking like a road') so I have its range and area of effect switch to tens of yards

  The ability to hide the real terrain of a battlefield should have obvious advantages! Your reserves are bidden behind a 'steep hill'; the open field now looks like a huge thicket of scrub and boulders; the inviting open field to the left flank of your army is actually a river; etc.

  But this leads us far enough down the primrose path to discuss the true magical master of the battlefield. That is, of course,

The First Edition Illusionist!

  That's right, the 1e  illusionist is the King of the Battlefield.
  Let's look at what a 9th level 1e Illusionist can do with a selection of spells
  1st level- Wall of Fog, Hypnotism, Detect Illusion, Phantasmal Force
  2nd level- Fog Cloud, Mirror Image, Improved Phantasmal Force
  3rd level- Invisibility, 10' r., Hallucinatory Terrain, Spectral Force
  4th level- Massmorph, Shadow Monsters

  While Wall of Fog and Fog Cloud do no damage, they are good at providing concealment and perhaps making foes move if they think the Fog Cloud is a Cloudkill. Not great, but not useless.
  Mirror Image, Detect Illusion, and Hypnotism are really about self-protection.
  Invisibility, 10' r. and Massmorph are about concealing units on the battlefield. If the illusionist gets a chance they can hide an entire unit (up to 90 creatures) as a copse of trees (Massmorph) or simply make up to, oh, around 40 medium creatures invisible. The sudden appearance of 40 heavy crossbowmen in what was thought was an open field would be a bit of a shock. Having 90 heavy infantry appear on the flank you though was anchored by a thicket of oaks would be even worse!
  I mentioned Hallucinatory Terrain above. The reason it is even better for illusionists is they get it a level earlier - a 5th level illusionist can potentially hide parts of the battlefield.
  The Phantasmal and Spectral Force spells, though, have the potential to truly wreak havoc on the battlefield. The have ranges of up to 170 yards (potentially out of short bow range) and the illusion can travel anywhere within range. While magic-users get Phantasmal Force they get it as a 3rd level spell while illusionists get it as a 1st level spell (!) and illusionists have sole access to Improved Phantasmal and Spectral Force - both of which last for 2 or 3 rounds after the caster ceases concentration and include some more senses other than just sight.
  Each of these three 'pure illusion' spells can create a huge range of effects from ditches filled with flaming tar to 500 pikemen in formation. Also remember; unless foes disbelieve in their nature AND make a saving throw these illusions can injure and kill!
  The sneaky spell here is Shadow Monsters. I say sneaky because of the impact it has on the other spells. Shadow Monsters is, really, an illusion so good it is partially real, but it can only be used to make creatures - almost a summoning. A 9th level illusionist could use this spell to make a giant, 2 ogres, 10 goblins, or 18 kobolds. The latter two are, effectively, battlefield units.But the Shadow Monsters stick around after the caster is doing other things and keep existing and fighting (if diminished) even when successfully disbelieved. Shadow Monsters, with its range of only 30 yards, is a really nasty surprise to any unit that gets too close to the caster and could be a last minute way to plug a gap in the lines in an emergency.

  So - what would fighting a battle where one side had an illusionist like that look like?

  Baron Mordan was indignant. He had been for over a year, ever since the king gave a grant of land to some upstart from the city. Mordan had learned from friends that the man had begun life as the son of a scribe and had made a fortune as a vagabond and mercenary before earning the king's favor on the Orc Marches. 
  Mordan was descended from nobility and was a 5th cousin to the king! Yes, yes, he was aware that by being the 4th son of a 3rd son he was reduced to a small barony on the border. While this land had been prosperous under his father Mordan struggled to generate any real income from the lazy peasants. When he found out that the king had given the next valley West to some common scribbler he had been furious!
  Burt Mordan had begun working immediately; his men at arms were loyal before too long there had been a series of 'problems' on the border between Mordan's lands and those of the new "baron" Worrel. Mordan had complained loudly and bitterly over each incident, even after his own brothers had told him to be silent. But it had paid off - at the last moot Worrel had directly accused Mordan of deception and theft. Worrel had offered to trial by combat, but Mordan knew of the man's reputation as a swordsman. No, Mordan had insisted on the old ways, the Lord's Battle ways. No scribbler could be a commander of men like Mordan; now it was to be settled by force of arms!
  Mordan had set out with his own 50 heavy cavalry, 200 medium foot, 300 militia short bow men, and 500 militia pikemen with an additional 100 heavy foot mercenaries (whom he planned to pay with loot).
  He knew the upstart had only 100 light cavalry and 200 medium foot with perhaps 200 militia archers and 300 militia pikemen.
  After 3 full days of marching directly toward Worrel's keep Mordan had yet to face any opposition. The villagers had fled, seemingly ordered by Worrel, and there was no battle. But on the evening of the third day Mordan arrived  on the top of the last hill before Worrel's keep.
  He had to admit - waiting to fight here had been the best option for Worrel; The forest on Mordan's right flank  and the river on his left would limit his mobility. He noted that the meadows near the river were marshy, so his cavalry and heavy foot would need to avoid that area.
  On the other hand, Worrel had erected no ditches, palisades, or stakes in defense - the only thing between Mordan and the keep were the few forces of Worrel! Mordan pitched his camp between the trees and the river less than 500 yards from the outermost of Worrel's troops.
  Dawn was clear and crisp, promising a perfect day for a battle. His commander told him there had been only one incident in the night - a guard had vanished. Probably a deserter, as nothing was missing and there were no reports of trouble.
  Worrel's forces were drawn up about 400 yards away; a pikewall 100 men wide and 3 ranks deep with 50 medium foot on each flank; Another 100 medium foot were on Mordan's right, 100 light cavalry on the left, with 4 groups of 50 archers each 20-30 yards behind. Worrel's forces made a line from the swampy river on Mordan's left to the heavy trees on Mordan's right. Mordan did not see the rest of the foot and assumed they were in the keep.
  Mordan decided simple was best; his pikemen formed up as the center, 3 ranks deep and 100 men wide. The main pikes were flanked with 50 medium foot on each side. The mercenaries formed on the right flank, the cavalry on the left. The short bow men were in a group 50 men by 50 men 50 yards behind the pikes. He kept 200 pikemen, 50 bow men, and 50 medium foot in reserve with another 50 medium foot guarding the camp. While Worrel's light horse would be more maneuverable in the marshy land on the left if they did anything Mordan's heavy cavalry could charge the flank. With the light cavalry pinned Mordan would simply march up, wait for the pike crush, and have the mercenaries roll over the medium foot. His reserve would then follow on and pin Worrel's forces against the river.
  He'd own the barony by nightfall.

  Before too long Worrel's archers began to fire, mainly at the pikes. Mordan had his own archers target Worrel's archers. Mordan heard a cry from the right - a group of heavy foot were marching from the trees! In just a few moment 150 heavy footmen in Worrel's livery were formed up, blocking the advance of the mercenaries. A moment later, they began marching forward, apparently eager to attack the smaller force ahead of them!
  Mordan shifted his archers to the new threat and while they began to fall it wasn't fast enough - the larger force was going to hit his right flank hard.  With a loud battle cry the mercenaries rushed forward to engage and-
  Worrel's heavy footmen vanished, like a puff of smoke. 
  Mordan stood in his stirrups, staring at the right flank. The mercenaries were disorganized, almost a mob, as they tried to find their missing foes. Mordan sent a runner to order the mercenaries to form back up and continue their advance.
  He realized his archers didn't have orders, but before he could order them to fire on Worrel's archers there was another shout, from behind him.
  A wedge of heavy cavalry, also wearing Worrel's livery, was trotting towards his rear! The archers, completely unprotected, were scattering , most of them running for the shelter of the reserves, who were forming a square, or the treeline. Mordan ordered his cavalry to wheel as he sized up the new threat - 80 cavalry, all in plate with lances! He faced a dilemma; if he engaged them, Worrel's light cavalry would be free to move; but if the heavy cavalry engaged bypassed his reserves his main body would be forced to form squares. He decided to charge the cavalry. He quickly sent a runner to order the reserves to the left and to move the mercenaries to cover the rear of the pikewall.
  Very soon his was leading his horsemen at the trot, then a full charge at the enemy. He leaned forward, lance in hand, ready for the terrible shock of impact....
  And the enemy rode through his forces like ghosts. Several of his men slipped from their horses when there was no impact, a number of horses stumbled and went down, likewise. Some lay still, seemingly dead.
  He gathered his cavalry together, minus 10 men unhorsed, and took stock of the situation.
  His pikewall was still slowly advancing and still under constant enemy arrow fire. The mercenaries, having seen the vanishing enemy horses, were struggling to return to the right flank to oppose Worrel's footmen. His reserves remained in a square with about 1/3rd of his archers within, the rest of his archers were scattered.He and the remaining 40 heavy cavalry were out of place. And where  Worrel's light cavalry had been waiting there was now a thick wall of fog, hiding them from view. 
  Like phantoms, the light cavalry appeared out of the fog and began a charge across the battlefield between the opposing pikes towards Mordan's right flank! Realizing Worrel hoped to catch the mercenaries before they could get back into formation he ordered his tired cavalry to follow him as he raced to keep them from catching scattered infantry in the open.
  He knew his horses weren't fast enough to beat the enemy cavalry there, but they could drive them off before too much damage was done. If he was lucky he might drive them back into the medium infantry behind them and try to roll up Worrel's flank.
  Looking back he saw - Worrel's light cavalry charging out of the fog. But that was impossible! Both groups were the size of all of Worrel's cavalry! The second group was charging, at full gallop, along the river bank towards Mordan's rear. Remembering how marshy the meadows were he decided that those troops must be more phantoms, like the earlier ones, to distract him from the real troops, ahead.
  The mercenaries, realizing they were about to be caught in the open, had hastily formed into 4 small squares as Worrel's lancers approached. The light cavalry ignored them, however, and charged around them, heading along the treeline toward Mordan and the heavy cavalry.
  A great crash and shouting arose from Mordan's left flank - the 'phantom' cavalry had struck the medium infantry on the left of the pikewall and were inflicting terrible losses on them. Horrified, Mordan watched the cavalry in front of him fade away into nothingness. 
  As he drew up to try to figure out what was going on he saw a messenger riding hard towards him. When he arrived the messenger's horse was blowing as hard as any of the destrier's in the cavalry.
  "My lord! The captain asks for assistance in the camp!"
  "What?! Why?"
  "Well, my lord, some of the trees. Some of the trees..."
  "The trees? Spit it out, man!"
  "Some of the trees turned into men, my lord! A grove of trees turned into soldiers and they are attacking the camp!"
  "Ride back and tell the fool captain they are phantoms, some sort of glamor to distract him."
  "My lord, the captain ordered me hence as he lay dying from a wound."
  "Dying...?"
  Mordan looked past the messenger. A column of smoke was beginning to rise over the ridge from the location of his camp.
  Mordan turned to survey the battlefield: His left flank was broken and Worrel's lancers were slaughtering scattered infantry; his pikes, weakened by salvoes of arrows, demoralized by the loss of the left flank, and terrified by the magic, were wavering. The mercenaries were finally in formation, but were staying close to the tree line. He watched as the reserves noticed the smoke from the camp - in moments they were running towards the camp.
  As Worrel's pike wall lowered their weapons into position and gave a great shout the rest of Mordan's army broke and began to run back towards his lands. The mercenaries, more disciplined, began to slip into the forest.
  The cavalry with him were holding firm, for now, but all of them were looking at him expectantly. 
  Even he started in surprise as a voice appeared out of thin air,
  "Greetings, Baron Mordan."
  "W-Worrel? Is that you?"
  "I am Baron Worrel, yes."
  "Where are you?"
  Almost instantly a small group of horsemen appeared just a few yards away. Mordan sensed several of his men prepare to flee. Of the four Mordan recognized only Worrel, who was on the finest warhorse Mordan had ever seen. Two of the others were retainers, and obviously warriors, but the fourth was a beautiful woman on a palfrey.
  "Here I am, come to accept your surrender."
  "Surrender? This was a single battle!"
  "Indeed. But recall, when you demanded Lord's Battle I pointed out that I was granted a barony for defeating the Red Orc Chieftain on the field of battle. Besides, while your troops were busy here some of my closest friends visited your keep. Surrender and you can dine in my keep with your wife and your sons this very evening."
  Mordan sagged in the saddle. Defeat on the battlefield and the taking of hostages - Worrel had fulfilled the rules of Lord's Battle. Mordan's lands and titles were now Worrel's.
  Moments later Mordan's men were returning home, Mordan had no sword, and he was riding between the two retainers.
  "I apologize, Mordan," said Worrel, "I failed to introduce you. This lady is my wife, Lady Gwenhyfar. She is a student of magic."